At a time when empathy is considered a dirty word in some circles, the only safe place left for drunks, petty criminals, and other undesirables might be in the songs of a man who once described himself as a “tree-huggin’, peace-lovin’, pot-smokin’, porn-watchin’, lazy-ass hippie.” Todd Snider embraces losers with a bear hug and a generously mixed beverage on The Excitement Plan, but don’t dismiss this perpetually barefoot singer-songwriter as just another laid-back dude toting an acoustic guitar and a feel-good ditty. Beneath the disheveled exterior is an ace storyteller with a Raymond Carver-esque gift for mapping out the troubled contours of a character’s life with a few well-chosen details.
Whether he’s describing a killer who gets out of a scrape by using a “dirty fist-fighting trick that works half the time” in “Unorganized Crime,” or a girl who looks “like how Booker T. And The MGs sound” in “Good Fortune,” Snider brings a sense of humor to his portraits of hapless people. Superstar producer Don Was brings in ringers like Loretta Lynn and session drummer Jim Keltner, but he wisely drags them down to Snider’s loveably scuzzy level, crafting music that’s as loose and under-rehearsed as the words are carefully crafted. The Excitement Plan is far from refined, but so is Snider—and so are the people he sings about.